Mic Drop: A Melodious Start to Black History Month

Mic Drop: A Melodious Start to Black History Month

queen mars – “Boys Like You”
queen mars – “Boys Like You”
Screenshot: YouTube

It’s officially Black History Month, and all I can say is that this month’s music is starting us off with a bang. The diversity of music produced and released is always astounding, and this week is no exception. Bringing us their A-game are artists who I wished I’d heard of sooner, artists I’ve been obsessed with for years and mixtapes where the production creates a world of its own.

One of the most poignant pieces is FKA twigs, Headie One and Fred again..’s new release Don’t Judge Me, which encompasses what I believe Black History Month is all about: finding love and joy through others while still, unfortunately, needing to be on the lookout for yourself.

But even though we’re celebrating joy, *tugs collar* there might also be a few songs that are perfect for a breakup scene in a television show (or real-life drama), or just itching to be the soundtrack behind a wig-snatching, food-throwing, mama-screaming fight in a Tyler Perry movie.

However, the most joyous moment of them all is Summer Walker’s Body, where she gives us a glimpse into her pregnancy in a beautifully done video. The joy continues alongside songs of hope, creativity and honoring ancestors, melodiously starting off Black History Month.

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Arlo Parks – “Hope”

Arlo Parks – “Hope”

I’m honestly kind of mad at myself for not knowing who Arlo Parks was until this weekend. But I’m getting over it because this beautiful song Hope is something that I think many people need right now. Parks repeatedly addresses the listener directly, speaking to “you.” The music gathers the listener into an embrace of sorts with others who might be struggling to get through similar mental and emotional hurdles. Her soothing voice melds effortlessly with the Indie Rock guitar and keyboard as the drums and bass line provide structure to the vocals and harmonies. The video itself offers a different vision of sisterhood through eerie yet delicate visuals combined with bright colors and emotionally dark movements. Listeners can continue to follow along with Parks’s indie rock/pop sound in her debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams, out now.

January 27, 2021, Transgressive (Indie Rock)

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Brent Faiyaz feat. Tyler, The Creator – “Gravity”

Brent Faiyaz feat. Tyler, The Creator – “Gravity”

Brent Faiyaz has one of those voices that anyone can sing along with. His mid-level pitch is slightly raspy and gives listeners the illusion of slight desperation in his vocals. The harmony is made up of a synth keyboard that’s pitched above both Faiyaz and Tyler, The Creator’s voices, often fading behind the vocals, particularly in the chorus. Tyler has one of the most recognizable voices in the alternative R&B genre, even when it’s pitched down like it is in this tune’s first hook. His cadence is bouncy, moving in different directions but always coming back to a very simple rhyme at the end. The video evokes the same feeling, at turns calm and kind of spacey but moving at many different speeds.

January 29, 2021, Lost Kids (Hip Hop/R&B)

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Celeste – “Tonight, Tonight”

Celeste – “Tonight, Tonight”

Celeste, an American-born British artist, released her debut album Not Your Muse on January 29th, and the featured single, “Tonight, Tonight” gives off major Lily Allen and Gypsy Kings vibes. There is a slight lilt to her voice, which, when mixed with the upbeat acoustic guitar produces a longing love song that fits well within the soft-rock genre. The drums definitely steal the show on multiple occasions. A few times, the melody, harmony, and other percussion instruments drop off and we get an expressive drum line, seamlessly blending with the rest of the band as it reenters. In addition to the acoustic guitar, string and horn sections alternate throughout different portions of the song, adding depth to the story being told.

January 29, 2021, Universal Music Group (Rock)

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FKA twigs, Headie One, Fred again.. – “Don’t Judge Me”

FKA twigs, Headie One, Fred again.. – “Don’t Judge Me”

Opening with ample ambience in both the video and the single, Don’t Judge Me invites listeners to take a glimpse into the Black experience and specifically the pain existing in Black iconography. FKA twigs’ high pitched vocals ride above the music as rapper Headie One, also one of the track’s producers, focuses on the idea of police brutality in spoken word that melds together with FKA twigs’ lyrics about love and trust. The video, split into two parts, plays with contrasting light and dark spaces, showing the push and pull of love and how that love can manifest in different forms.

Honestly, I feel like I should be watching this on a panoramic screen, fully immersed in the visuals.

January 26, 2021, Young Turks Recordings (Hip Hop)

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Koncept Jack$on & Ohbliv – JET MagaZINE, ‘21 Reissue (Full Album), “Can It Be” (Featured Single)

Koncept Jack$on & Ohbliv – JET MagaZINE, ‘21 Reissue (Full Album), “Can It Be” (Featured Single)

The instrumentals are the star of this track. The chaos of the soft keyboard, drum machine and drum kit holds the listener’s attention and ear. When vocals enter, they hover just above the background noise. The track gives off a very lowkey and relaxed vibe, even though the combination of the percussion and background vocals feels like they’re trying to catch up with one another. The swaying island feel of the track belies lyrics that are clearly about living out the most “hard and fast” life possible in the hood.

January 29, 2021, MUTANT ACADEMY (Hip Hop)

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Madlib – Sound Ancestors (Full Album), “Latino Negro”

Madlib – Sound Ancestors (Full Album), “Latino Negro”

Sounds of Ancestors, an album recorded over the course of many years basically said, “fuck genre-norms.” The album is an exploration into how music can have more than just one bpm (beats per minute) and explore more than just one genre in a single track. In Latino Negro, listeners might understandably anticipate a very distinct Latin vibe based on the title, but the track instead opens with a recognizable jazz percussion line. That beat is only present for a few moments before the telltale picking of an acoustic guitar plays on top of the percussion. The rest of the album follows a similar pattern—which is to say, follows no pattern at all. Some tracks are purely instrumental and switch pitch and tone throughout, while others rely on hard-hitting rap verses to tell the stories of our ancestors.

January 28, 2021, Broadcast Music Inc. (Fuck Genre-Norms)

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queen mars – “Boys Like You”

queen mars – “Boys Like You”

Have you ever listened to a song for the first time and the back of your eyes start to get hot and prickly because you quite literally may cry? Well, that’s what this song did to me. Everyone loves a good break-up song—but even more than that, everyone loves a good “fuck you” anthem. No matter where you are in life, you can get down to a song like this. Boys Like You follows queen mars as she works through the feelings of betrayal, loneliness and hate; the video depicts her taking it all out on a Corolla bedecked in flowers and a very sad white boy in the front seat. The melody and percussion match the progression and heat of the vocals and lyrics and ultimately act as one, moving indecipherably and even becoming staticky and repetitive, finally advancing to the explosive crescendo every good “fuck you” anthem should have.

January 27, 2021, kaleidoscope pop records (R&B)

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Summer Walker – “Body”

Summer Walker – “Body”

Summer Walker’s Body is a minimalistic video written as a love letter to herself and her body as she lets the world witness a moment in her pregnancy. The video, filmed both in black and white and vibrant colors, plays with shape and lighting—but though she’s dressed in the finest silks, it’s her edges I can’t keep my eyes off of. Walker stays true to her lyrical range and use of trap beats, but the content and context of the song veer far from her norm, and listeners can’t help but be drawn in. The colors she uses in contrast to the black and white footage fit so perfectly with the lyrics, percussion and message that it all works in harmony.

January 27, 2021, Love Renaissance / Interscope (R&B)

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Tems – “The Key”

Tems – “The Key”

Tems tells the story of an Afrofuturist world plagued by aliens and darkness in her new single The Key. Outside of the surreal visuals, the afrobeats, keyboard, high-pitched wind instruments and real-world sounds (thunder, a fire being lit, clinking metal) provide context to the events unfolding, while Tems’ vocals switch up with the song. Sometimes, they’re more fluid, then sometimes slip into a harder, almost rap-sounding cadence as the song becomes more aggressive. Despite the dark message Tems is trying to get across, the beat and melody give off such island dance vibes I felt like I should be holding a drink of some sort instead of warding off aliens.

January 29, 2021, Leading Vibe (Afrobeats)

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Tokyo Jetz, T.I. – “Know The Rules”

Tokyo Jetz, T.I. – “Know The Rules”

Tokyo Jetz, CEO of Fuck Nigga Free Inc., is here to show you how to handle your ain’t-shit dudes in a safe and bougie environment—where, for some God-only-knows reason, the often problematic T.I. is the janitor, only working there because he can get curved for free, and drunk for freer.

January 28, 2021, Grand Hustle / EMPIRE (Hip Hop)

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Trevor Jackson – “Just Friends”

Trevor Jackson – “Just Friends”

Aaron Jackson took off his “woke” African awareness buttons and Trevor Jackson has taken over, portraying a lovesick man desperate to get out of the friendzone. For those who don’t recognize the name, Trevor Jackson plays the character Aaron Jackson on the Black-ish spinoff Grown-ish. Trevor (who will now simply be referred to as Jackson) stands in an empty warehouse surrounded by darkness except for a spotlight on his “friend” across the room. His words slur and tumble into each other as the song uses a keyboard and synth to create the instrumental behind the vocals, the percussion mixing a simple drum line with a faster trap beat towards the end. The song and accompanying video end with a soft and tapered out keyboard run that accompany a visual plot twist.

January 26, 2021, Born Art / EMPIRE (R&B)

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Xavier Omär – XO Creative Club (Podcast)

Xavier Omär – XO Creative Club (Podcast)

Though this is not a debut song or album, Xavier Omär and Jay Sandoval recently debuted their new podcast XO Creative Club where they bring on weekly guest artists to dissect new music and share stories. This past week’s guest, ELHAE (featured on last week’s Mic Drop) discussed his new music as well as the childhood connection that he shares with Omär. The first episode features Masego, whom Omär collaborated with right before the launch of the podcast.

You can find a link to the podcast here.

January 26, 2021, Club/RCA Records (Podcast)

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DISCUSSION